Cheesy chicken broccoli orzo is ready in less than 30 minutes and makes the perfect one-pan meal. Chopped chicken, broccoli, and orzo are coated in a creamy and flavorful cheddar cheese sauce.
Skillet meals make the perfect weeknight dinner after a hectic day. This cheesy chicken broccoli orzo skillet comes together in a single pan, in less than 30 minutes.
Plus, it's absolutely filled with cheesy flavor. Chicken, broccoli, and orzo are cooked in a single sauté pan and coated in a homemade creamy cheddar sauce.
This meal is so easy to make, you'll be adding it to your weekly rotation. It makes the perfect quick weeknight meal - kids and adults alike will enjoy this one!
Ingredients and substitutions
- Chicken breasts - Can be substituted with cubed chicken thighs if desired (they make take an extra minute or so to cook through). You can also substitute with shredded rotisserie chicken. Simply skip the steps of seasoning and cooking your chicken and continue with the recipe as written.
- Seasoning - Salt, pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes add flavor to your dish without making it spicy. For a truly mild dish, the red pepper flakes can be omitted
- Olive oil - Any neutral cooking oil on hand will work.
- Onion - White or yellow onion works best in this recipe.
- Garlic - Fresh minced garlic will provide the best flavor. Two cloves of garlic can be substituted with ½ teaspoon of garlic powder if needed.
- Chicken broth - Can be substituted with vegetable broth.
- Orzo - Can be substituted with other small pasta shapes. You'll need about 6 to 7 ounces of shaped pasta, like macaroni, ditalini, or shells.
- Broccoli - Can be substituted with chopped cauliflower or brussels sprouts. Asparagus or frozen peas can also be used, but should be added in the last 3 minutes, since they will cook faster.
- Heavy cream - Makes your sauce thick and creamy. Can be substituted with half & half for a slightly thinner sauce.
- Sharp cheddar cheese - Can be substituted with pepper jack cheese (for an extra kick of flavor) or monterey jack cheese. No matter the cheese you choose, I recommend freshly shredding your cheese. Pre-shredded cheeses are coated in powders to prevent clumping, which when melted can give your sauce a grainy texture.
Thickening your sauce
You may have noticed that there are no thickening agents in this recipe, like flour or cornstarch.
That's because we're using the starches released when the pasta cooks to thicken your sauce naturally.
If your sauce looks thin, remove your completed dish from the heat and allow it to set, uncovered for 5 minutes. Your sauce will continue to thicken as it stands.
Skillet meal tips
If you've never made a homemade pasta skillet before, here are a few of my favorite tips for success:
- Is your food sticking to the pan? Add a bit of liquid and turn the heat down - your stove is too hot. Stoves all run at slightly different temperatures, even if they're turned to the same setting.
- Sauce look thin? If your sauce looks thin when you're done cooking, allow the pan to sit for 5 minutes, uncovered. The pasta will continue to absorb liquid as it stands.
- It is important to properly measure your liquids and pasta for this recipe. Everything is cooked in a single pan, so you'll need an exact amount of liquid to cook your pasta. Improper measuring can lead to a runny sauce.
- Use freshly shredded cheese (cheese grated from a block) instead of pre-shredded cheese in a bag. Pre-shredded cheeses are coated in anti-clumping powder that makes your sauce grainy as it melts.
Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Orzo
- 16 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 18 ounces chicken broth
- 1 cup orzo, uncooked
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
- Cube chicken breasts into bite size pieces and season with salt and pepper.
- In a sauté pan over medium heat, and add one tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, add chicken in a single layer and cook until heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, about 3-4 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Remove from pan, cover, and set aside.
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, add onions, and cook until they begin to brown and turn translucent. Add minced garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
- Add chicken broth, paprika, red pepper flakes, and orzo to the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Bring to a simmer, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes (or, consult your pasta's package directions and cook to al dente, minus 5 minutes).
- Remove lid and add chopped broccoli. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for the remaining 5 minutes, allowing broccoli to steam and pasta to finish cooking. Most of the liquid should be absorbed at this point.
- Remove lid and add heavy cream, shredded cheese, and cooked chicken. Stir to combine. Cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes on low, or until cheese has melted. Remove from heat and allow to set for 5 minutes to allow sauce to thicken before serving.
- One head of broccoli = about 3 cups of small broccoli florets
- Leftovers will keep for 3 days or more in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, and reheat well in the microwave.
- Chicken breasts can be substituted with chicken thighs or shredded rotisserie chicken. If using cooked chicken, skip steps one and two, and continue with the recipe as written.
- Freshly shredded cheese from a block is highly recommended. Pre-shredded cheeses contain anti-clumping powders that prevent even melting and make your sauce grainy.
- If using low sodium broth, you may want to add additional seasoning to make up for the loss of flavor.